Teens and Illicit Drugs
Adolescence is a time of important physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. Learning how to solve problems, build close friendships, make decisions, and handle responsibility are important during the teenage years. Drug use interferes with teens' ability to learn and improve those skills. Whether it's alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, or other illicit (illegal) drugs, the bottom line holds true: teens who use drugs put their future in danger.
- Parents tend to underestimate their teen's exposure to illegal drugs.
- Almost 1/3 of teens report that they have used illicit drugs at some point in their lives.
- Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age -- especially before high school-increases the risk for using other drugs later, such as marijuana and cocaine.
- Young people who don't use drugs are more likely to stay in school than those who do use drugs.
- Over one quarter of high school students report that they have been offered, given, or sold an illicit drug on school grounds.
- Poor judgment while using drugs puts teens at risk for car crashes, falls, drownings, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide.
- Drug use can cause serious immediate and/or long-term damage to the brain, liver, kidney, heart, and lung -- just to name a few.
Tips for Parents
The reality is that at some point your teen will be offered drugs. Give him or her reasons and ways to refuse drugs.
- Tell your teen often that drug use is unacceptable, illegal, harmful, and wrong! Frequently talk about family expectations and rules about drugs. Clearly state and enforce the consequences for breaking the rules.
- Raise your teen's awareness about the health risks and consequences of drug use. (See the resources section for more information.)
- Positive feedback strengthens a teen's decision not to use drugs. For example, "It's great that you have decided to stay away from drugs. That takes a lot of courage!"
- Busy, supervised teens have fewer opportunities to do drugs. Encourage your teen to take part in community activities or after-school programs, or to get a part-time job.
- Get to know your teen's friends. Know where they hang out and what they are doing. Talk with your teen's friends' parents about your "no drug use" rules.
- Talk with your teen about ways to handle pressure from friends to get "high." Teach your teen how to say "no" and to suggest doing something different (safe). To feel comfortable talking openly with you, your teen needs to know that you will not punish him or her for being honest.
- Get involved in your teen's education. Set rules for doing homework, set goals with your teen for school grades, ask questions about his or her classes, and encourage him or her to read.
- Boost your teen's self-confidence and self-worth. Praise his or her attempts as well as achievements. Encourage your teen to express his or her opinions and feelings in a positive way, for example, talking, writing, or drawing. Talk with and listen to your teen. Show that you are there for your teen when he or she needs you.
- Help your teen (especially girls) develop a positive body image. Encourage your teen to respect his or her body by avoiding alcohol and other drugs, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly.
- If you have an alcohol or other drug problem, help is available. Talk to a health care professional and see the Resources section on this page.
What should I do if my teen is using drugs?
Calmly talk about the extent of his or her use -- what kinds of drugs, how often, how much, with whom, where, and why. Explain why you are concerned. Remind your teen of your rules about drug use and enforce the consequences for breaking them. If you believe your teen is abusing drugs or your efforts to enforce the rules have failed repeatedly, seek help from a counselor or health care professional.
Reprinted with the permission of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. 2008 Palo Alto Medical Foundation. All rights reserved.
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